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Hawaiian singer, guitarist dies at 60


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Hawaiian musician Claybourne Smith, better known as “Braddah Smitty,” died Saturday at his Kaumana home after a long illness. He was 60.

The Honolulu-born Smith was a member of the popular band Sons of Hawaii, and after going solo, continued to wear palaka (Hawaiian plaid shirts), part of the band’s uniform. Smith also helped to establish the Laupahoehoe Music Festival in 2006, and was honored at the festival this past February.

Smith played ki ho‘alu (slack key) guitar, usually on an Ovation 12-string instrument, and had a voice that sounded eerily reminiscent of the late Hawaiian music icon “Pops” Gabby Pahinui, an original member of the Sons of Hawaii. An apocryphal story that became legend was that Pahinui was Smith’s uncle, but according to Pahinui’s son, Cyril, Smith was not related by blood to the Pahinui ‘ohana.

“I’ve known him since we were both kids,” Cyril Pahinui said Monday evening. “He was a friend.”

Smith’s daughter, Eva Ayau, described her father as “a great man and the best dad he could be.” Acknowledging the similarity between her father’s voice and Pahinui’s, Ayau said that Smith “was inspired by Gabby.”

“He was passionate about music and his music made him the man he was,” she said Monday night. Ayau added that Smith had “a great sense of humor, right up to the end” and gave “the best hugs.”

Condolences to Smith’s family and reminiscences about the musician were posted on Smith’s Facebook page.

“Bruddah can now join the Kanikapila (music jam) with ‘Pops’ and the gang,” Cyril Pahinui wrote.

“I will miss your voice and all the memories we shared,” wrote Big Island slack-key artist Sonny Lim. “I am glad I got to see you before I left… even half way around the world the pain of your loss is with me… but you are in good hands and I know he will give you rest… we will meet again someday.”

Slack-key artist Makana referred to Smith as a “dear friend, mentor and kupuna.” He noted that although Smith was not well, he had “mustered the mana (power)” to join Makana onstage at the Laupahoehoe fest to sing “Kanaka Wai Wai.”

“It would be his final performance,” Makana wrote.

“Uncle Smitty, I love you,” he continued. “The times we shared will stay with me always. You taught me the most important thing in life: Mahalo Ke ‘Akua (thanks to God). Give my aloha to Uncle Sonny (Chillingworth), Pops, and for goodness sake behave yourself up dea.”

Smith is survived by his wife, Sue, six children and nine grandchildren, Ayau said. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Email John Burnett at